Get Involved: CANOE SPRINT

Helen Reeves

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Get involved with... Canoeing

Unlike canoe slalom, the canoe sprint events have been part of the Olympics for more than 75 years. Taking place on still-water courses, they are simple head-to-head races without gates or penalty points to contend with.

Tickets for all six days at Eton Dorney have sold out, with the home crowd hoping to see more British success after Tim Brabants' historic gold in Beijing. Brabants became Britain's first Olympic canoe champion by winning the Kayak singles (K1) 1000m race.

Kayak races are listed with a 'K' and canoe races with a 'C' - so the Men's C2 1000m event, for example, is simply a two-man canoe race over 1000 metres. Both disciplines have introduced new 200m sprint races, which promise about 30 seconds of explosive action.

As for the difference between a kayak and a canoe, kayak racers sit in the boat and use a paddle with two blades, while canoe athletes kneel and use a single-bladed paddle which they switch from side to side.

The men's K1 200m and K2 200m will be of interest to the home crowd as they contain British medal hopes in Ed McKeever, who won the 200m world title in 2010, and the K2 team of Liam Heath and Jon Schofield.

Why is it good for you?

Paddling uses most of the muscles in the arms and legs, with the strain of fighting against the power of the water leading to an increase in upper arm, forearm and chest circumference and grip strength. An hour's canoeing burns approximately 287 calories.

Tim Brabants

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Canoe sprint explained (Part one)

A Manchester Metropolitan University study also found that regular canoeists possessed superior heart strength, enabling them to pump blood around the body more efficiently.

As the canoe sprint relies on technique and strength, competitors often remain competitive at an age when most other athletes have retired.

Italian Josefa Idem claimed silver in the K-1 when aged 43 at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, while the most famous competitor of all is the German Birgit Fischer, who won an incredible eight gold and four silver medals between 1980 and 2004.

With her victory in the K4 500m in Beijing when aged 42, she became the first woman in any sport to earn medals 24 years apart.

Get involved

If you haven't canoed before, a starter course is a good idea. There are clubs and watersports centres all over the United Kingdom, with some offering teaching for mixed groups or for novices.

For those looking to join a club or begin lessons, visit the The British Canoe Union website for further information. You can also contact the BCU to find out the location of sprint meets.

If you are new to canoeing and kayaking, it is not necessary to purchase equipment straight away.

Very often clubs and centres will have equipment that you can use, under supervision.

After you begin to paddle more regularly you may then wish to purchase some of your own equipment such as a helmet, spray deck, buoyancy aid, paddle and even a canoe.

From entering the sport as a beginner it is possible to progress to national regattas at junior and senior level, where all paddlers are ranked within their classes.

There are approximately 4,500km of navigations and canals in the UK that can be paddled on with the appropriate licence. Whitewater centres also offer a variety of exciting sporting and team-building activities.

Go to the Canoe England,Scottish Canoe Association,Canoe Wales and Canoe Association of Northern Ireland websites for more information on how and where to try out or watch the sport.

More on the GB Canoeing website

Want to get involved with sport in your local community? Why not Join In ?

'Join In Local Sport' aims to get as many people as possible to turn up and take part in activities at their local sports facilities on 18/19 August, 2012 - the first weekend between the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The aim of the initiative is for every sports club and community group in the UK to put on a special event in a bid to encourage more people to get involved as members, supporters or volunteers.

More than 4,000 local sports clubs will be opening their doors to host events and show people just how they can get involved.

As well as tips on playing sport there will be information on coaching, supporting and how to help out.

Find an event near you.

The competition format at London 2012

  • From Monday 6 August to Saturday 11 August, 248 athletes (158 men, 88 women) will compete at Eton Dorney.
  • There are 12 medal races, nine in kayaks and three in canoes.
  • Races are held over distances of 200m, 500m or 1000m, either solo, in pairs or in teams of four.
  • Boats are seeded so that the leading competitors do not compete in the same heat.
  • In events with 10 boats the competition begins with two heats. The winner of each heat goes into the final and is joined by six boats from the semi-final.
  • Events with 11 to 12 boats see the winner from each of the two heats head into the A final, where they are joined by the top three boats from each semi-final. The losing semi-finalists go into the B final to decide the remaining places.
  • If 13 or 14 boats are competing, the first five boats in each of the two heats progress to two semi-finals, while the other boats go to the B final. The top four boats from each semi-final progress to the A final to compete for the medals, while the other lower positions are decided in the B final.
  • If 15 to 16 boats are competing, the first six boats in the two heats progress to two semi-finals, while the other boats go to the B final. The top four boats from each semi-final progress to the A final to compete for the medals, while the others progress to the B final.
  • Events with 17 to 24 boats start with three heats. The first five boats in each heat, plus the boat with the best sixth-placed time, progress to two semi-finals, while the other boats are out of the competition. The top four boats from each semi-final progress to the A final to compete for the medals, while the others progress to the B final.

More on the London 2012 website

The rules at London 2012

Canoes are operated from a kneeling position with a single-bladed paddle, while kayaks have a closed top and are operated from a sitting position using paddles with blades at each end.

Canoe sprint races take place on open expanses of water, at least two-metres deep, with up to nine entrants in each race.

The objective is simply to be the fastest along the course and the first across the line.

Athletes are penalised for infringements such as repeating a false start or leaving the middle of their lane.

Any boat that capsizes before their bow crosses the finish line will be eliminated from the race.

More on the Team GB website

Ones to watch

Team GB's Tim Brabants is the defending Olympic champion in the men's kayak over 1000m, but on current form GB's best gold medal prospect is Ed McKeever in the new kayak 200m event.

The 2010 world champion won back-to-back World Cup golds in May.

Kayak 200m pair Liam Heath & Jon Schofield won silver at last year's World Championship.

Germany's Max Hoff is a big threat to Brabants in the kayak 1000m, having won back-to-back world titles and three successive European titles since the Beijing Olympics.

Triple Olympic champion Natasa Douchev-Janics of Hungary took last year off to have a baby girl and has targeted medals in the kayak single, double and possibly four.


The kayak is thought to have originated from Greenland as a tool for hunting, fishing and transportation, while the canoe was used all over the world as a method of transportation, trade and war.

Canoe sprint, as opposed to slalom, has been the traditional form of racing since the sport's inception during the mid-19th century.

Flatwater canoeing featured at the 1924 Games as a demonstration sport before canoe sprints officially entered the Olympics in 1936. Women have competed in the kayak event only since the 1948 Games in London.

More on the IOC website